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Hiring of New Police Is Delayed

The council ignores attacks by the mayor and votes to wait before adding 320 officers.

May 20, 2003|Jessica Garrison and Matea Gold | Times Staff Writers

Despite a last-minute public relations blitz by the mayor and the police chief, the Los Angeles City Council voted Monday to delay spending for additional police officers and a host of other items until the city's financial picture becomes clearer.

The 11-4 vote gives the council a margin to override a veto threatened by Mayor James K. Hahn, who has taken to the airwaves in recent days along with Police Chief William J. Bratton to accuse the council of risking the city's public safety. It would take 10 council votes to override a veto.

Aggrieved council members said that they are committed to public safety but that the city cannot afford to commit $19 million for 320 new officers, as well as $4.2 million to reorganize the department and $8 million for new police cars. Their plan calls for deciding on the expenditures in four to six months and continuing to hire officers this summer and fall to replace those expected to retire or quit.

"Basically, the facts won over rhetoric today," said Councilman Nick Pacheco, chairman of the council's Budget and Finance Committee. "The budget the council adopted today is completely an olive branch to the mayor and he should run with it. We didn't say no; we said, 'Wait and see.' "

Monday's vote was the culmination of three weeks of sometimes contentious council hearings on Hahn's $5.1-billion budget proposal. During the 50 hours the budget committee reviewed the financial plan, much of the discussion concerned projections that the city could face a budget shortfall of $280 million by July 2005.

Hahn called the forecast preliminary and urged the council to approve his plan, but several council members, including key allies of the mayor, said he was not taking the city's financial situation seriously enough.

On Monday, Deputy Mayor Matt Middlebrook said it was too early to say what Hahn would do next. He said the mayor plans to meet with council members to urge an eleventh hour compromise to pay for the LAPD expansion. There is still time for such an agreement. The council won't take its final vote on the budget until Friday at the earliest.

Some council members said they hope for a compromise and urged Hahn to consider raising fees or finding other ways to generate revenue to pay for the new police officers. The mayor has threatened to veto any fee hikes beyond minor increases that he has proposed in trash rates, zoo admission and sewer charges.

"I, personally, am not 100% happy with this budget," said Councilman Eric Garcetti, who voted for it. "I still think we need to guarantee we can pay for our public safety officers, and there's still time for the mayor to work with us to resolve that."

"The mayor has some work to do," said Hahn's sister, Councilwoman Janice Hahn, who voted against the budget after backing a failed motion to grant the Police Department the money for expansion and reorganization. "There needs to be some more communication."

The mayor's office appeared to be listening. Middlebrook described the council vote Monday as disappointing but said he was confident that the two sides could move toward a compromise.

That measured language contrasted sharply with the rhetoric of last week, when Hahn accused the council of trying to "micromanage" the Police Department and suggested that council members eventually would use money meant for hiring new officers on "pet projects."

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'Missing in Action'

Joining him was Bratton, who called the council "missing in action" and likened himself to Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower being turned back from Normandy just before D-Day.

But the prospects for a compromise were unclear Monday. Several council members, including President Alex Padilla, said the budget plan approved Monday was a compromise because it authorized the police expansion that Hahn wants after a delay of several months.

"This is the council's genuine effort to meet the mayor halfway," Padilla said.

Before the council's daylong discussion of the budget, several dozen residents from across the city trooped to the microphone, urging the council to pass Hahn's plan and accusing council members of turning their backs on public safety. Some said the mayor's office had called them and asked them to testify.

"Bring these officers up on board," said Noah Modisett, a board member of the Coastal San Pedro Neighborhood Council.

But many City Council members expressed frustration that Hahn had cast them as opponents of the Police Department.

Councilwoman Jan Perry said the mayor had resorted to the "politics of name-calling and blame."

"No one can tell me that I don't care" about crime, said Councilman Ed Reyes, who added that he had recently attended a candlelight vigil for a man killed in his district. "This is not how you cultivate friendships.... Let's get away from punching each other below the belt."

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